The family of 75-year-old Bernice Kekona, who passed away after sustaining injuries at Portland International Airport, is suing Alaska Airlines.
The lawsuit alleges that the airline failed to take care of the disabled senior citizen, which caused her to fall down an escalator. Three months later, she passed away from her injuries. Kekona’s family claims they had requested a gate-to-gate escort for her June 2017 trip from Maui to Spokane and that they called Alaska Airlines three times to ensure that she would not be left alone. While she was escorted off of her flight in Portland, it appears workers left her to find her next gate on her own.
Surveillance footage from inside the airport shows Kekona, who had impaired hearing and vision and a prosthetic leg, wandering around the airport in her wheelchair alone. After moving her wheelchair to the top of an escalator, she falls face first onto it and is carried down 22 steps with her chair on top of her. She suffered extensive injuries from the fall and allegedly told responders that she was confused and thought she was getting into an elevator at the time.
In a statement, Alaska Airlines responded to the tragedy with an attempt to explain what happened:
We’re heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident.
We don’t have all the facts, but after conducting a preliminary investigation, it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight. It also appears that when her family members booked the reservation, they did not check any of the boxes for a passenger with ‘Blind/low vision,’ ‘Deaf/hard of hearing,’ or ‘Other special needs (i.e., developmental or intellectual disability, senior/elderly).’ So, there was no indication in the reservation that Ms. Kekona had cognitive, visual, or auditory impairments.
After landing in Portland, Ms. Kekona was assisted into her own motorized scooter by an airport consortium wheelchair service provider who then escorted her from the aircraft into the concourse. Once in the concourse, she went off on her own. We learned from bystanders that Ms. Kekona sustained a fall while attempting to operate her own electronic chair down a moving escalator next to the A concourse elevator. We immediately called the Port of Portland Fire and Rescue, along with Port of Portland Police, who responded to the scene quickly to provide her medical treatment.”
The family’s lawsuit, however, claims the airline still had a responsibility to escort her to her next gate regardless of what she may have said or of possible errors in booking the service. Federal law also requires airlines to assist disabled people not only on and off their flights, but also to their gates for connections.